New hope for schizophrenia sufferers

Key research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) could lead to the first early diagnostic tool for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“At the moment we don’t have any biological tests for these conditions,” said one of the authors, UNSW Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Philip Ward, who is based at Liverpool Hospital’s Schizophrenia Research Unit. “Our research could eventually lead to a simple, cost-effective and safe way to distinguish patients with schizophrenia from those suffering bipolar disorder. This is important because a patient can get treatment sooner and hopefully have a better outcome.”

Auditory recovery cycle dysfunction in schizophrenia: A study using event-related potentials has just been published in the international journal Psychiatry Research.

“Sixty percent of patients with schizophrenia have auditory hallucinations,” said co-author, UNSW PhD candidate Nathan Clunas. “So we decided to look at a particular brain wave-form which measures attention and attention deficits that can be found in these patients.”

The researchers recorded the brain waves associated with pairs of sounds in 17 patients with schizophrenia. Subjects heard the sounds through a set of headphones, while performing a visual distraction task. The patients’ results were compared with those of a sex and age-matched healthy volunteer group.

“We were looking at what occurs about 100 milliseconds after the sounds were presented,” said Nathan Clunas. “The distinctive pattern observed in healthy volunteers was disrupted in patients with schizophrenia.

“These findings may help us understand the problems patients with schizophrenia experience in focussing attention on everyday events,” said Nathan Clunas.

The researchers are currently analysing the results of patients with bipolar disorder, to see whether different patterns of response to sounds are seen in these patients.

“Depending on the final results in the bipolar group, we may be on the way to developing a biological test,” said Professor Ward.

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